Colette’s perfect novel adapted in this imperfect film demonstrates the difference between movies and the books they come from. On the one hand, cigarette smoke wafting over someone’s head in a long shot with the foreground a lovely border garden evokes a character and another character’s feelings about that character in just a few seconds. On the other hand, Colette’s tone of voice in the book is full of archness and wisdom. As readers we have the time to take it in, to let its seduction take hold. The narrator’s voice in the movie is a man’s, and feels forced and trying to fill in the blanks and intrusive.
The moving images of the movie are beautifully apt to the Belle Epoque settings, its architecture, interiors, and gardens. The costumes are sumptuous and steal the show. The actors all do a fine job epecially the title character, Rupert Friend, as the callow youth whose beauty is his undoing. I do not agree with the casting of Michelle Pfeiffer for this part. She is so thin, and carefully preserved when what is called for is someone fleshy and just past their prime. Is it true that the camera could not record her actual face in order to give the illusion of preserved beauty in one so far past forty? She is too much a product of California, blond, lean, and hip, to play a voluptuous Parisian courtesan. Her voice is all wrong especially in the beginning when she seems to be faking a British accent (why? because Friend is British?)
Was Helen Mirren not available? Or Charlotte Rampling? Something about Pfeiffer’s face says surfer to me. I know that she has the chops and all that, having played loose women etc but still, that was in American pop culture type things like Scarface and Baker Boys. This is the cream of Colette’s oeuvre and she just doesn’t work in the part.
Everyone else does, thank goodness. In the end I think the movie is about the mother making one hideous decision after another, and Kathy Bates plays the mother perfectly.
Oops, said Kathy Baker by mistake. They are so different!
Kathy Bates Kathy Baker